Sunday, August 17, 2014

Walk the Walk: Take Yourself Seriously


There’s a saying that has always rubbed me the wrong way: Fake it ‘til you make it. Of course, I know what it means and I understand the sentiment behind it, but there’s something inside of me that balks at the idea of “faking it.” I don’t like fake people. I don’t like pretending to be something I’m not. And the times in my life when I have faked it, I have felt insecure and fraudulent.

However, in my publishing journey one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that if I want to be a successful, respected novelist who people take seriously, I’d better act the part. I don’t think this requires me to fake it so much as it requires me to walk the walk. Educate myself. Learn from the pros. Figure out who I want to be and do everything in my power to become that person.

For my next few posts I’m going to focus on some of the ways that I’ve learned to walk the walk. Starting with taking myself seriously...


My publishing journey began when I was the first time mom of a ten-month-old. Any mother out there will be able to relate to the fog of her first baby’s first year. Everything is new and unfamiliar, sleep is at a precious premium, and you often feel like your entire life revolves around the eating, sleeping, and diaper changing patterns of the precious little despot who has taken over your life. I wasn’t writing--I didn’t have time to! But in the midst of my new mommy chaos, I found myself with the stunning opportunity to get a piece of my work straight into the hands of a respected editor. It was a chance I simply couldn’t pass up.

I had a month to write and polish fifty pages... and an adorable little rugrat who did everything in his power to make sure I would never reach my goal. Writing time was stolen time for me--moments when he was napping, an hour or two before I fell asleep at the computer every night, ten minutes or so when he was distracted with some toys. I wrote harried and unkempt, usually with my unwashed hair in a sagging ponytail and my pajama pants still on. Worst of all, I battled growing demons every day: “This is total crap. You’ll never amount to anything. What a waste of time and energy. You’re pathetic.” And as much as it hurts to admit, I was kind of pathetic. I felt sorry for myself.

One night I had an epiphany. As I stared at my bedroom ceiling I envisioned myself meeting this editor, sharing my work with her, and (hopefully) impressing her with my insight and grace. When I pictured that scenario, I barely recognized myself. Poised, confident, dressed for success... I realized that even in the small things, in writing every day, I wasn’t taking myself seriously--and it was impossible for me to accomplish anything when I felt like such a loser. I would never show up to a marketing meeting unshowered and wearing yesterday’s t-shirt. It was time that I respected myself enough to treat my writing as more than just a hobby. It was time to treat it as a job.

The next morning I set my alarm, got up early, and brewed a pot of coffee while I took a long shower. I did my hair and make-up, put on my own version of a power suit (freshly washed jeans and a nice shirt), and spent the rest of the day feeling like I could take on the world. I even considered myself a calmer, more competent parent. A couple days later I carved out time to write by sending my darling baby boy to a wonderful friend for two mornings a week. And guess what? A few months later that same editor offered me a two book contract. The rest, as they say, is history.

A confession: I rarely write in my pajamas. I know there are lots of authors who love working from home for that exact reason (and there are definitely times when I’ll do anything to get a project done--including forsaking sleep and personal hygiene when an important deadline looms), but I find I’m exponentially more successful and productive when I imagine that at any moment opportunity might call. What if today is the day Oprah decides my book is her next pick? If her helicopter landed in my backyard to whisk me away for a taping of her show, the only thing I’d need to do is freshen my lipstick. I was born ready, world.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that every author needs to write with his or her hair coiffed and nails done. What I am saying is that writing is a job, a dream job, and it should be treated with the same gravity and respect as any vocation. For me, that means setting an alarm clock, dressing for success, and clearing my schedule so that I can give my work my full and undivided attention. We're doing what we love, people. And if we don't have the self respect to take ourselves seriously, how in the world can we expect anyone else to?

Maybe you’ve already seen psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TedTalk on body language and the effect of “power posing.” If you haven’t, it’s a must-watch, but I’ll (feebly) cliff note it for the sake of brevity (and try to embed it below because you really should watch it). Basically, Amy proves that standing tall in a confident pose is dramatically more effective than slouching over your iPhone before an interview. Act confident and: surprise! You'll be confident. Believe that what you're doing matters, that the words you're putting down on paper are valid and beautiful and worth reading, and people will stand up and take notice. Don't fake it, just put one foot in front of the other and start walking...

Hugs,
Nicole

7 comments:

  1. I don't like writing in my PJs either. I feel more productive if I am dressed well. One thing that stood out to me, however, was that you had this idea of taking yourself seriously after you knew you had the opportunity to get 50 pages in the hands of an editor. You had a tangible goal and deadline, and I think that would help anyone take themselves more seriously in what they are doing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great point, Kelly. I totally agree. And I find myself in a really interesting situation today--nearly a decade after I signed my first contract. I am, for the first time in eight years, contract-less. I don't have a deadline or a tangible goal--other than one that I've given myself. It's not quite as motivating as having someone external tell me what to do, but I hope that through the practice of treating my writing as a job I'll be able to continue to take myself seriously... And write the synopsis and 50 pages that will hopefully secure me another contract! We'll see... ;-)

      Delete
    2. Like both of you, I have to be dressed and Ready For The Day in order to be most productive. Personally, though, I do best when *I'm* the person setting the goals. I haven't scored a contract (yet!) but I got some in-person requests from agents, and the stress of getting my MS ready to send made me ultimately a slower writer. I tend to have an easier time meeting deadlines when I'm the one setting them.
      But as a child of parents who are both self-employed, it's not surprising I like being my own boss. ;)

      Delete
  2. This is such a good thing for aspiring writers to keep in mind. It's easy to think, "I'll be a real writer once [insert milestone here] happens." But you might never get there if you don't take yourself seriously first. Great post. Thanks. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Susan! My eighth book is going to be published in April and I *still* think, "I'll be a real writer once (milestone) happens." It's hard sometimes to respect ourselves as authors when we are continually measured against one another, told that the genre we write in is escapist fluff (instead of weighty, serious, or worthy of attention), or get the sort of awful review that calls into question not just our talent (or lack there-of) but our entire personhood. I find I have to remind myself that it's how *I* perceive *myself* that matters. Not always easy to do, but so necessary!

      Delete
  3. Great post! I think it's great you decided to take two mornings for yourself. What a blessing you found someone to babysit for you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Eliza! A couple of years ago a friend and I had the brilliant idea to swap kids two mornings a week. On Wednesday she took my youngest son (the other three are in school now) and on Thursday I reciprocated by babysitting her daughter. Our kids loved the play dates and we loved the time to write! Nothing like free daycare, though I have sent my kids to daycare for a couple of hours a week off and on throughout the years...

      Delete